1927’s second show The Animals and Children Took to the Streets premiered at Battersea Arts Centre in 2010. A run at the National Theatre followed, then a tour. Now it’s back, with a new cast. The production demonstrates how niftily the company merges its trademark blend of punchy animation, live action and silent movie-style piano accompaniment. But for all the its admirable facility, there’s now an uncomfortable edge that can’t be ignored.
The show is set in and around a grimy tower block, Bayou Mansions, populated with cockroaches, racists and their multiple offspring, perverts who “sniff ladies’ bicycle seats” and hordes of feral children. Into this urban hellhole comes the unbearably twee Alice, who hails from a more fragrant patch of the city and is determined to save the poor miscreant youth by means of an art club, replete with PVA glue and pasta shells. Meanwhile, the mayor has a sinister plan to sedate the rampant kids.
Writer and director Suzanne Andrade’s narrative – delivered in arch plummy tones – is undoubtedly well-written but veers from knowing social satire into coded condescension: the residents of Bayou, for instance, “wear a lot of leopard print”.
It’s an oddly offensive way to discuss poverty that ignores all the intersectional aspects of inequality in a bid to elicit laughs about pubic lice from its (mainly white, middle-class) audience. The cast, wearing mime-style white face makeup, adeptly interact with the stylish and intricate designs. Post-Grenfell, it’s just a pity that the show perpetuates a tone-deaf, pejorative fantasy of estate life under the guise of darkly comic irony.